Sunday, April 30, 2006
No big deal, right? It's not like I have a girlfriend to tease me incessantly (and I know she would; you ladies are the worst ;)). To take my mind off this forced abstinence, I tried watching some TV. I should have known better.
If it's not a Jessica Simpson video, it's an hour-long Girls Gone Wild infomercial that I just can't seem to turn off. Yeah, I'm not exactly watching during family hour (the seedy underside of television comes out in the wee AM hours), but still. SEX IS EVERYWHERE, and it's making me agitated. From the South Park movie running during the Secret Stash hours to the True (bullshit) ads on MySpace featuring bikini-clad tempests, to the sexy sighs of Sia in 'Breathe Me' to the play-poker-online ads featuring some big-busted mamacita. All I want is to bust a nut right now in the worst way, and I can't, all for the greater good (or whatever). I'm a masturbatory martyr.
On a side note, I'm humorously awaiting the horrified responses from my friends at the thought of my brand of genetic weirdness getting scattered out there like so much airborne pollen. They'll say, "That poor woman has no idea what she's getting herself into...or rather into herself!" C'mon people. I'm not that bad and you know it.
Of course, they're two years apart, so they're not twins or anything, but it's still uncanny.
Saturday, April 29, 2006
Things could have been bleak, life could have become grim. But only if I let them be.
Many people can't accept that their state of mind is entirely their own making. They see the "find the silver lining" outlook as foolish and nonsensical, that life is just repeatedly dealing them a shitty hand and there's nothing they or anyone else can do about it. I know several people exactly like this, and frankly, I'm getting tired of their shit. You get a lot more done by broadening your mind and being open to new and unlikely possibilities than by shutting yourself in, determined to bitch and moan and do nothing else.
I know. I used to be one of the bitchy moany types. What happened? I went nuts.
I moved from smalltown Ohio (population, 20k) to New York Fuckin' City (I think that's its official name now). I'm not saying you Debbie Downers of the world have to move to The Big Apple to fix your life. God knows I lost money living in that city. But I was willing to make a change, no matter how big or small, to refuse to accept that the meager and unsatisfying living I was eeking out before was the best there could be. This is in no way directed at my friends or my hometown. They're the best, and it's all about finding what suits you. Kosovo Mike is completely enamored with Sandusky, and in a way, I admire that. I wish I could have been content there and earned a living doing something compelling that I loved doing every day.
The gesture that changed my mind was simply breaking out and doing something completely unlike what I was used to. I'd never seen a subway and never ridden public transit before going to NYC. I'd never walked so many places and felt like that really was the best means of transportation. I've also never been confronted by such a daunting array of possibilities for work and play. There is so much to do there, it's hard to even comprehend it, let alone get out and actually DO it.
Alas, I eventually had to leave the city, but the experience and contacts I made there (and continue to make as a result) are invaluable. People have noticed that I mysteriously went from a glass-half-empty kind of person to gulping down what's in the glass and asking for more.
I said last week I was borderline destitute. What's changed? The horizon has been broadened yet again. In the last few days:
1. I've been offered a Web site editor position with a company I've been freelancing for for about a year now.
2. Then, I found out that I go in Monday for initial screenings to become a sperm donor.
3. On Tuesday I have to have ready some samples and a proposal for how I'm going to reinvent the videogames section of ShopWiki.com.
4. On top of that, I've started writing regularly for BlogCritics.org and getting great feedback,
5. had an opportunity (too little, too late, tho) to go to E3 this year in Los Angeles,
6. found out most of my family is planning to head to Seattle this year to see my far-off uncle, which also affords me...
7. taking my cousin with me to the Penny Arcade Expo and get to share that whole experience with many of the people who mean the most to me.
8. My old roommates in Brooklyn are probably moving elsewhere in the borough this summer, and if I take the site editor job, that would make moving back to NYC a breeze.
What the heck? When did things start such an upswing? They didn't. This stuff's gradual but omnipresent, and it comes from being positive in your heart and to those around you. It comes from having and exuding the confidence that, no matter what life throws at you, it'll be all right in the end. You can handle it. You're a big kid now. You wear big kid pants. And dammit, you go pee in the potty.
On the other hand, I have constant deadlines rushing at me, a sore back and wrists from sitting in front of the computer for too long every day working, and more outgoing cashflow than incoming. I could bitch and moan, but what good would it do anyone? Forget the negativity and it's amazing what you can accomplish, and what opportunities might find their way to your doorstep or inbox. Also, it's amazing how recuperative it is to tickle the eight-year-old in the next room. :)
Above all, DON'T GIVE UP. Nothing ever came to anyone who quit or said "I can't." Did Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Einstein, or the Wright Brothers say "I can't"? They're only geniuses compared to their contemporaries who stayed home and didn't try. Get out there. Be something. You'll be surprised what you can do if you just will it into being. And don't worry about pissing off Yoda. Sure, there are "do" and "do not," but to me, there is also a "try." Go give something new a try.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
To give you a little history, I played the original Gran Turismo and GT2, but lost interest after that for the duration of the next two installments. More cars, more courses; been there, done that. I need something new! It's as if Polyphony is spying on me, for they've made something capable of freshening up the tried-and-true for me. How? By subtracting two wheels.
Sure, there are other things that have changed. Rather than adding turbo kits and doing weight reduction on your ride, you learn better when to tuck down or adjust your riding style to add or subtract lean. This does as much or more for your handling and performance as those aforementioned tweaks. It takes some getting used to, but ultimately feels like you're more in control of the action.
Tourist Trophy sidesteps the monotonous grinding of the GT series by removing money from the equation, and I commend them for that. In GT, you had to buy a cheap, lame car and do the same low level races over and over and over until you could finally afford something respectable, let alone upgrades for it. Not so in TT, and their approach makes it feel more like a game and less like work. Jump right into the career mode, head for Challenges, and start filling up your garage. Don't forget to earn those licenses along the way, but other than that, getting new crotch-rockets is only as hard as they are to race against.
See, the way you open up bikes is by giving them about a 10-second lead, then trying to overtake them and stay in front for either 10 seconds or till the race is over, whichever comes first. Personally, I love this approach, because it keeps you from suffering the frustration of wiping out on the last turn of the race and having to do it all over again. Get in front and stay there for 10 seconds and the bike is yours. Simple as that.
Sure, wipeouts still happen as you learn the feel of each bike, but don't expect Flatout's level of ragdoll physics for your rider. Wiping out causes you to fail a challenge (as does wiping out other riders or leaving the track for too long), and falling to the turf in major races only causes a delay while you get back on your motorcycle. Some would gripe about this, but I'm not. It's a racing game, not an injury simulator. Adding realistic body damage and hospital bills would detract from the fun.
Don't get me wrong though. It's not a piece of cake getting a handle on these two-wheeled terrors. They behave very realistically. Some would say "brutally so," but I disagree. Sure, you have to learn and be patient while you work out the kinks. After about three days of playing, a friend noticed my riding had improved dramatically.
At the same time, if something "feels" like it would work in real life, it will work in the game. Brake sooner, slap on tires with more grip, pick a lighter bike; all these things affect handling and performance, and with more than 100 bikes to choose from, you'd be hard pressed to find one you don't like.
Sure, there's a lot of Japanese influence in the roster (Suzuki, Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha), but that's not all they've got (MV, Triumph, BMW, Aprilia), and there's a respectable variety from each manufacturer. Either way, these are racing bikes. You want choppers? There's a game for that elsewhere. I'm not upset at the so-called "weak" or "lacking" roster because the existing stable is more than enough to keep me happy, and I know this game will see a of follow-up if this one is any indication of the quality to come. A sequel means more bikes, fewer hiccups, and more race venues.
Again, I see complaints online that the game recycles mostly tracks from the Gran Turismo games, but what did you expect? Those tracks are familiar and well worn, but feel a whole lot different on two wheels as opposed to four. Also, none of the GT games have managed to include an online mode, so it's not much of a letdown to me that TT doesn't have one either. If you really want that, take a half point off the score. To me, it was a pure racing thrill, flying a foot off the pavement at 195mph, with nothing but the wind rushing by and the whine of the engine to keep me company.
While the sounds Tourist Trophy has are certainly good, this is one area where I will ante up and say needs more work. Where's the music? Some half-there funk/pop isn't going to get my blood boiling out on the track. After about an hour of either dull music or no music (some modes have none at all), I muted the game and threw in some Metallica. That did the trick.
Visually, it's very much in line with what you'd expect from Polyphony. They must do some voodoo under the hood of the PS2 that other studios don't know. The bikes in particular look amazing, and even better in the replays and Best Photo mode, where the game takes tons of snapshots of your replay, which you can then print directly via compatible Epson printers, or save to memory card or a USB flash drive. The images and visuals all around are really impressive, but you can also crank it up to 1080i on HDTV sets. I rocked it on a 62" LCD HDTV in 1080i and simply couldn't look away. What's more, the photos it took that I copied to my USB flash drive copied perfectly to my laptop in glorious 1280 by 960 resolution. Wallpaper, anyone?
The game won't take you forever to complete (100+ bikes, 100 or so challenges, five licenses, 20+ races = about a week), but I haven't gotten this much of a rush from a racer in a long time. Go ahead, throw your weight back just before winning a race and wheelie across the finish line at 150mph+ and tell me you don't get a kick out of it, too.
Monday, April 17, 2006
Let's do a little comparison, shall we? First, the Nintendo Entertainment System, launching in 1985, the console most credited with bringing the gaming hobby back from extinction. Here's what it shipped with:
- The NES console
- Two controllers
- The Zapper light gun
- Two games: Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt (other options existed, but these were the most common)
- Two controllers
- TV/Game switch (for audio/video)
- Power cable
- R.O.B. the relatively obsolete robot (optional)
All of this went for about $250, if I remember correctly. Maybe more, maybe less, depending on your territory. Now compare this to the Sony PlayStation 2, releasing in October 2000 for $300:
- PS2 console
- One controller
- Power cable
- A/V cable
Seems like a rip-off by comparison, doesn't it? No game, no options. Nothing. And it's $50 more!
One problem is that companies want to keep the prices low and competitive in favor of offering more to the players up front. You think there would have been any light gun games for the Nintendo if it hadn't been packed in? The Super Scope (SNES) and Menacer (Genesis) had meager support at best, mostly because the implementation of the accessory came long after the primary machine's debut.
So now the market expects these hardware releases never to spike above $400. Honestly, there are people willing to pay a bit more for a machine, especially if they hear, "But look what else you get!" Pack some stuff in. Open the doors to new development and interaction. And yes, I have suggestions.
Now I'm not promising this will be cheap, so let's get that out of the way right now. What I do promise is that people will buy it; the hardcore don't even acknowledge dollar signs, and as the price comes down, the casual players will buy it, too. Here's what my dream machine console package would contain in today's market:
- The main console
- A/V cables
- Power cable
- Pack-in game (or two)
- Two controllers (one dual analog, one with a trackball)
- Wireless keyboard and mouse (with recharger base)
- Built-in hard drive and Ethernet connectivity
- USB camera
- One memory card (or other compact, removable storage, like a Memory Stick)
- Light gun (third party if need be; Namco makes a good one)
- USB headset
The idea here is to widen your audience up front, make them dream of the possibilities, not cringe at the limitations and wonder how anyone is going to make something worthwhile within the constraints of the hardware available.
You may also notice that I said one controller should have a trackball in it (like a mouse that is touch-sensitive and doesn't move). This is an idea that's well overdue, in my opinion. In an era where games would benefit so much from having mouse and keyboard support, can we at least get some sort of a pointing device thrown in? One of each type of controller at least opens up the possibilities. Buy a second controller later if need be, but have the tech in the box from the outset. Just replace the right analog stick with a mini-trackball. Better yet, have the sticks/ball be removable so you can reconfigure any way you like! Want two trackballs on your controller? So be it!
However, I didn't throw in HDTV/component cables because in that realm, base functionality is really all you need out of the box. Beyond that, there are so many options it's kind of insane. Some people want S-Video. Some want basic component video. Some want optical audio. Some want to get Monster Cables for everything. Some want the all-in-one cables that hook up to every console. Some want VGA or DVI cables to run it through their higher-resolution PC monitor. There's just too much wiggle room here to suggest a definite standard.
Wireless keyboard and mouse (With recharger! Save on batteries!) may seem like an odd choice, but consider this. The PS3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Revolution will all feature wireless controllers. I know the PS3 specifically supports up to seven infrared controller input signals simultaneously, but honestly, who is going to make an offline game for more than four players, realistically? It's very rare. Instead, have those input relays read info from the wireless keyboard and mouse instead. In the online arena and with more games having customizable speech, characters, and other content, and consoles having Web browser software, having a keyboard saves a lot of time on hunting and pecking with the controller astride some unwieldy on-screen interface, not to mention macros and other functions that can be added as time rolls on.
The Nintendo Revolution (or whatever it ends up being called) is coming out this fall with this sort of remote control wand thingy that no one fully understands the ramifications of yet, so I appreciate them trying something new in an era where everyone else is playing it relatively safe. Other companies need to look at their hardware and see where similar or smaller tweaks can be made to open the floodgates of innovation. I think some of the things suggested above are at the very least some baby steps in that general direction.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Sunday, April 09, 2006
Here's PART ONE of the feature (part two coming this week).
Here's the forum thread where people argue about my picks.
I'm also trying to get in with BlogCritics to do some work for them, maybe start a little controversy like this. It's all for good discussion and debate. I like that.
I can't swear any truth behind it. How would I know for sure? Still, it's a good read, IMO. Below is my response to the guy who sent me the link:
Re: our Star Wars imperialistic govt.....I heard about this comparison a few years ago, then started reading up on "conspiracy theories," then saw claims that there never was a plane that "hit" the Pentagon, but rather that it was a truck bomb. I gotta say, the evidence makes sense. At this point, we couldn't possibly enact one of the main fundamentals of the Constitution (take the govt out of power when they come to represent their own interests rather than those of the people) because they'd simply turn our own military on us, and label us not only unpatriotic, but also as traitors. On that point, I'm sure they WOULD follow the Constitution in putting the "rebels" to death post-haste (forget about any appeals or re-trials on that charge).
One place this article stumbles is in why it says we should let Bin Laden stay free. The article implies that he's a CIA agent and is being kept free intentionally to keep him in play. The link at that point in the article reads very differently. A retired CIA agent (who no longer stands to gain much from his agents) makes the valid point that capturing or killing this "hero" to his people could further incense them and trigger even more attacks, either to glorify the martyr, or to compete to take his place. It's spun a bit for the article's point's benefit, methinks. Imagine if the Romans hadn't killed Jesus, but rather just left him in play. Think his "legend" would still be alive and kicking today? Remember, Bin Laden is a religious terrorist as much or more than he is a political terrorist. I'm sure to the Romans, Jesus was a terrorist, polluting the populace with ideas contrary to the govt, convincing them to be different, free, wise, and independent. And before you compare Bin Laden to Hitler, Bin Laden made a handful of small attacks and isn't nearly as interested in world domination or genocide as the Nazi leader was. Hitler was also largely politically movitated. He didn't have to alter the maps of Europe just to kill some Jews. He wanted it all, and didn't let up until he had it, or died trying. We all know how that ended. Same with Napoleon. They were pushy. When's the last time anyone saw or heard anything out of Osama? Bush is more the aggressor, making him more the Hitler or Napoleon than Bin Laden ever was, invading nations and subjugating their people.
The stuff about America terrorizing its own people or Bin Laden being in cahoots with the Bushes...none of that can I refute. Fahrenheit 9/11 finds enough info to support that. I'm just waiting for Bush to come out and admit it. He probably never will. What I don't get is how we were going to impeach Clinton for getting head in the Oval Office, but we leave Bush to keep breaking laws, hurting people, and doing his dirty deeds, and for dirt cheap (pushing the deficit to record highs, off OUR tax money....if he had to pay for this stuff himself, he'd never get it done).
I think if a President's approval rating drops below 40%, he should be ousted right away. PERIOD. Why shouldn't he? Clearly the people's will is to get rid of him. Saying 50% is a little tricky, especially considering the last election was 51% / 49% (we'd prolly have to replace someone every six months at that rate), but technically, that could be the breaking point, too. Either way, Bush is pushing the bottom of 30% approval, and Cheney is way below that. Why are they still in office?
All of this adds up to why I'm dying to see V for Vendetta. "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people."
That's my two cents. Thanks for the link!
Friday, April 07, 2006
Then tell me what you think.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Monday, April 03, 2006
The industry crashed back in 1983 in Atari's heydey, mostly due to no quality control, too many sub-par titles, and too many me-too derivatave games, like sequels or one-offs like Ms. Pac-Man, Super Pac-Man, and the like. So what's the state of the industry today? Very similar. QC is at an all-time low (mostly a money issue) where companies want to push something out to retail as fast as possible, then fix all the bugs and broken bits later on with subsequent patches. So they're releasing beta (unfinished) software, hoping to patch up the mess later.
This became the accepted norm for PC gamers, but now it's moving to consoles since many come equipped for Internet connectivity and have hard drives pre-installed for saving downloadable content. What worries me is that since many console gamers have no idea what the PC gaming climate is like and have never experienced the horrors of buying a broken game KNOWING you'd have to wait for unfortunate patches, they may immediately grow accustomed to it, which just enables the game companies to get more and more lazy with testing their products to make sure they work. Is it any wonder that Microsoft was one of the first companies to start this trend on game consoles? They've been releasing unfinished products for the PC for years.
Products lately have also become largely derivative today once again. Every year we see the same football game (Madden) with a new coat of paint and roster updates. Some series are up to a fifth or sixth entry when many players lost interest after the second. A few of these have been reprehensibly bad, like the PS2's first iterations of the Syphon Filter and Driver series. Simply awful, by the developers' own admissions! But these games have higher and higher budgets and go to retail simply in the hopes of recouping some of that expense on name recognition alone. Hope the suckers snap it up before word of mouth gets around. Kind of like when I went to see the sequel to The Crow in theaters. Holy god that movie sucked, but I saw it simply based on the pedigree of the original.
I realize that the Dynasty Warriors series is ridiculously popular, and is quickly taking the Madden route of crapping out a sequel or two every year with minor improvements and a few sacrifices made along the way. I used to like this series. The first (a sequel to a PS1 one-on-one fighting game) opened up battlefields to one-on-thirty melee combat, and it was a rush. The next game brought enough new elements to warrant a look, but every entry since then (there have been about six) does nothing but add alternate costumes and other frivolous elements. They don't improve the gameplay or the combat system. They're still telling the same story. They haven't added online play, the ability to hot-swap playable characters mid-game, tolerable squad control, intelligent AI, or anything else. They realized they don't have to because enough people just keep buying essentially the same game. If it ain't broke, why fix it? The money's still coming in.
So nothing's getting any better, and in many ways has either stagnated altogether or taken steps back. I recently wrote a feature for SyncGaming.com about games that were ahead of their time (it's not posted yet). These were titles that added in a slew of great features and snuck out to retail below anyone's radar. Some were noticed, some were not, but they advanced what we could expect from a given genre, and were then subsequently ignored. For example, Red Faction was a first-person shooter with deformable/breakable terrain, buildings, and other objects that could be reduced to rubble. That game came out five years ago. Only in the last few months has any other game even tried to incorporate the same type of realism, a flashy but ultimately shallow title called Black. Innovations are being made, but studios don't want to spend the time or money to keep up with the trend, and wind up reversing the trend by the end of the day.
Stagnation isn't just limited to software. Hardware is missing the boat in many cases as well. When the Dreamcast came out, it was around the time DVD movies were starting to get popular. Did they include a DVD drive in the DC? Nope, largely because it was expensive tech at the time, and because Sega wanted to use proprietary discs to curb piracy (which didn't slow down the software pirates one iota). They later released some attachments to amend for their possible oversight, but it was too late. Add-on technology for game consoles is notoriously under-supported by the consumer. The PS2 comes out next, offering DVD playback right out the box. This seemed like the new standard. Then Microsoft and Nintendo bring out the Xbox and GameCube, respectively. The Xbox only allows DVD playback if you buy an accessory attachment/remote, and the GameCube goes the Dreamcast route, shooting for proprietary disc technology. Neither one stood a chance against Sony. They'd sold so many units at that point, many of which went at a lower price than standalone DVD players. This was certainly a huge selling point for the system in Japan. Heck, I wouldn't have bought one on release day if it didn't have DVD playback. Yet another example of someone setting the bar and everyone else ignoring it.
Sometimes a company's principles get in the way of doing something better or smarter as well. When the Xbox was in development, Microsoft made it pungently clear that it would not just be a set-top PC, even though it was made entirely of off-the-rack PC components (Pentium CPU, Nvidia GPU, standard RAM, DVD-ROM, and hard drive). They didn't want it to be a PC-port box (though it got more than its fair share of them), and for some reason wanted to "reassure" gamers that this console was all about console gaming, meaning it wouldn't be "complicated," as they apparently think we view PC gaming. In doing so, I think Microsoft missed a great opportunity do something that could have made their market share explode: Make a closed-box (no hardware upgrading/modding) console that can play PC games as well. Someone else--I forget who now--tried this idea of making a standardized PC architecture that would run a given list of games, and had a proprietary loading/installing routine where all you literally had to do was pop in the PC disc and play. As it is, PC gaming requires installation of the game, rebooting, tweaking, optimizing, and making sure it's compatible with your unique hardware, and while this is a largely automated process now, it is time consuming. The Xbox had built-in Ethernet and hard drive components, meaning that adding support to run specific PC games (i.e., getting any necessary drivers installed) wouldn't have been that taxing, but could have attracted a far greater number of people to the console, myself included. A $200 PC that hooked up to your TV? Bye bye WebTV. But they didn't.
I can remember being excited to go to the game store just a few short years ago. I looked forward to it. The very thought of checking out new releases made me giddy. The quality of software has been so watered down lately and with the prices remaining unusually high, the thought of going to the same stores simply makes me tired and bored, disappointed and even annoyed. As it is, instead of games demanding more of the player, they've begun to demand far, far less. The lowest common denominator is now the target audience simply because there are so many people in that demographic with low expectations, willing to pay to play tripe. It's about money. It's a capitalist world out there, so on one hand I don't blame them for wanting to cover their bottom line. However, reading about the Gizmondo CEO buying million-dollar cars (and then letting some mythical guy named Dietrich wreck them) while his company goes bankrupt gives the industry a black eye.
As it is, I feel like I'm on the precipice of leaving gaming behind altogether. I'll still cling to the classics of yesteryear and check out anything from the independent scene or developed in someone's garage, but that's about all. It's not that I've just grown up and think gaming is for kids. Far from it. I didn't outgrow gaming. Gaming is just something else now, something that's great for a bunch of people who don't expect as much of their entertainment. I'm off to find something better, if it exists. While gaming seems to be heading for another crash for people like me, the recent absorption of hip hop and ghetto culture is attracting more people with money to burn and no demand for quality; this will probably keep the business alive. It's just not a business that's exciting for me anymore.
On a related note, read THIS for a live dissection of gaming between myself and a like-minded friend.